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I went where bears were not

Two young brown bears engage in friendly play outside the mouth of Pack Creek in the rising salt water.  KLAS STOLPE
KLAS STOLPE
Two young brown bears engage in friendly play outside the mouth of Pack Creek in the rising salt water.

I went where bears were not.
I had intended to go where bears would be and where I was assured that bears would be in abundance.
However, they were not.
This was my first "paid for" guided Pack Creek bear experience.
I should have known better.
My previous encounters with guides on guided bear experiences seldom resulted in my obtaining the photograph I desired.
Guided experiences generally stopped me from doing what I normally liked to do in the woods: rolling about in the dirt, swimming in the water and hanging in trees.
At Denali one season, I thought for sure the "save the trees and wildlife" bus driver was going to haul me by my ears down the bus steps and toss me into the surrounding tundra.
All I’d said was: "How many bears did you see yesterday?"
I think one of the words in that question was her CIA-hypnotic-trance word as she snapped, "Is that all you are in the park for?"
I could do nothing the rest of the six-hour bus ride except stare at my backpack.
Any movement on my part to point a lens and camera out the bus window was met with a “don’t you even think about it,” head tilted slightly, in the rear-view mirror, bus-driver stare.
So now, here I was on the shores of Admiralty Island, a place where bears were not today, at least not at this time, in any real number.
"You just missed a huge sow and two cubs," we were told.
"You just missed a big boar," we were told.
"This is a print of where a bear stood."
"This is the path a bear has made."
An Admiralty ranger resting on the shore would radio a Forestry employee resting along the creek who would call a Trooper resting somewhere who would whistle through a blade of grass to our guide, or vice-a-versa, and off we were led from a tract of land where bears were not to another tract of land where even less bears were not.
To top it off there was another group of people enthralled with just being in Alaska where bears were not and a group of excitable folks visiting Alaska where bears were not and both entourages were honestly, and loudly, pleasantly happy to see eagles in a tree, salmon dead in a stream, gulls and ravens pecking eyes from dead salmon in a stream and the sounds of nature through ears blocked by headphones and Alaska husky caps.
And guess what?
They did not have guides. They still got the special radio announcements, just not the handholding.
There is some special permit that I was not aware of that allows you to be guide-less, albeit, clueless, in the land where bears are not.
These guide-less souls were so enamored over an eagle eating a recently out-sexed salmon that they crowded in front of where I stood, blocking my view.
I, of course, stepped up on a log to peer over them with my camera.
I think, aside from asking to see bears on a bus in Denali, this has to be the biggest faux pas of wilderness excursioning and voyaging about in territory where bears are not.
"You get off that log!" both my recently well cached-out guide and a cushiony-pensioned State/Federal Admiralty Island worker scolded me. "You'll draw attention from the bears."
If ever a part of me wanted to start tap dancing atop a log it was at that point.
Yet, the sight of a woman in a park-issued wide-brimmed hat the color of survivalist-green and an unshaven man with a State-issued pump shotgun (both of whom had tandemly berated me) reminded me eerily of stepping off a Denali bus, slowly walking a safe distance from danger and then breaking into a full sprint to my car.
I had no vehicle in the land where bears were not.
I was bound to the band of travelers being guided on a “once-in-a-lifetime-experience.”
Four bears were spotted that day.
Two way upstream that still appeared to be way upstream even when captured in my 500-plus zoom lens, and two frolicking in the ocean shallows in what my guide stated was, "never before seen activity in the salt water."
This "rare" sighting was the nail in the proverbial wilderness coffin.
It occurred during a radio-approved expedition from beach to viewing location and (God forbid) I slowed my walk to point my camera at this forbidden spectacle.
"My slowing would disrupt the natural order of the bear's environment."
Now, to be fair, I did learn a lot.
After all I was among professionals: a housewife from New Jersey, a schoolteacher from Seattle, a cook from Los Angeles, and their families or significant others.
And we were being led by Alaskan professionals: a bear guide with a wealth of knowledge, not only of bears, but of the environment bears on Admiralty Island exist in; a retired Forest Service employee with intimate knowledge of the Tongass and a passion for sharing it; and a couple seasonal employees - one who does nothing the rest of the year but enjoy the outdoors, and the other who does nothing but attend college until she can get back to the outdoors.
In these four was found the real passion of Alaska.
This is why I should have been there where bears were not.
Because I love the outdoors.
My agenda had biased my experience.
I was overlooking their wealth of knowledge.
Their lifetimes of experience found by many only in books.
And so what if, in books, there are photos of bears.

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